From the Director

Rex

 

 

 

by Rex Parker, Director

Open space, dark skies, and the stars. According to a recent study of satellite-based luminance measurements across the globe (Falchi et al., Sci Adv 2016, The new world atlas of artificial night sky brightness), more than 80% of the world and 99% of the U.S. and EU live under light-polluted skies. The Milky Way is hidden from more than a third of humanity and 80% of North Americans. Light pollution is a painful reminder of the unintended consequences of modern civilization. What, if anything, can we do about this?

The quantitative physics of skyglow indicate that it arises from both regional and local causes combined. Reducing and mitigating the local sources of light pollution therefore has a beneficial impact on perceived skyglow over any given community. Despite overdevelopment, New Jersey has a large number of “land trusts” dedicated to acquiring remaining undeveloped parcels and keeping them as natural as possible. Land preservation saves habitat, promotes biodiversity, and assists the growing public perception that natural areas are essential to the future vitality of our community and state. A strong case can be made that local land preservation is the most effective way currently available to conserve what’s left of our view of the night sky.

At a recent meeting of Montgomery Friends of Open Space (MFOS) in Belle Mead, I gave a presentation on amateur astronomy and the relation of dark skies to land preservation. A clear dark night sky has profoundly redemptive qualities while excessively lit nightscapes are disorienting to the circadian rhythm of wild animals, insects, and plants. Life on earth evolved a strong physiologic dependence on the daily light–dark cycle of the sun as the centerpiece. In botany it is well known that the biochemically essential dark reactions of photosynthesis are inhibited during the light phase. Recent reports in the ecology literature describe the adverse effects of outdoor lighting on plants (e.g., Bennie et al., J Ecology 2016, Ecological effects of artificial light at night on wild plants). The behavior and ecology of herbivores and pollinators are similarly disaffected by unnatural light at night. For humans, the daily cycle of sleeping, waking, hunger, activity levels, body temperature, and melatonin concentration in the blood, provide deeply ingrained biological reminders of our synchrony with the natural light-dark cycle.

Choosing to be hopeful, one can see increasing awareness of the problem of light pollution. Government responses such as improving local outdoor lighting ordinances are steps in the right direction. In fact both Montgomery and Hopewell townships have lighting ordinances in place, and Hopewell is updating its code to require warmer color-temperature LEDs to reduce skyglow. Supporting local land trusts financially and socially is one of the most effective choices we can make, along with becoming more informed about the issue. But the bigger picture remains a challenge for the next generation of concerned citizens to drive policy towards a major reconception and “do-over” of outdoor lighting.

AAAP membership in UACNJ renewed for 2019. Take advantage of our renewal of status as an affiliate of the United Astronomy Clubs of New Jersey. This includes access for our members to the observatory at Jenny Jump State Forest, a darker sky site in northern NJ. For more information, see the website http://www.uacnj.org/

2019 AAAP UACNJ Certificate

Act now! – only 3 months remain on our Skynet contract! As described in my article in Sidereal Times, June 2017 (https://princetonastronomy.wordpress.com/2017/06/03/from-the-director-64/), AAAP members now have the remarkable privilege to access Skynet – a state of the art robotic telescope system created by the Univ of North Carolina Chapel Hill Astronomy Dept (https://skynet.unc.edu/). Our contract with UNC expires this June. During the current phase, we are assessing the interest among membership with an eye to future continuation of this project. If you have not yet taken advantage of this perquisite of AAAP membership, and you would like to begin doing astrophotography using Skynet observatories around the planet, first review the Sidereal Times article, and then send me an e-mail indicating your interest in an account with Skynet.

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From the Program Chair

By Ira Polans

The February meeting of the AAAP will be held on the 12th at 7:30PM in the auditorium (Room 145) of Peyton Hall on the Princeton University campus

The featured talk is by Gino Serge on his book Enrico Fermi: The Pope of Physics and the Birth of the Atomic Age. Enrico Fermi is unquestionably the most famous scientist to come from Italy since Galileo, so revered by his peers that he was known as “the Pope,” because his scientific instincts and skills were to be “infallible.” A physics Nobel Prize winner in 1938, he was one of the most productive and creative scientists of the twentieth century, the only physicist to reach the very highest levels of the profession as both a theorist and an experimentalist. The largest particle accelerator in the United States, the nation’s most significant presidential award in science and technology, and the element fermium all bear his name. After the talk there will be a book signing.

As of now there will not be a 10-minute talk. If you’re interested in giving a 10-minute talk for our February meeting or at a future club meeting please contact me at program@princetonastronomy.org.

There will not be a club dinner before the talk.

Looking forward to you joining us at the February meeting!

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January 2019 meeting minutes

by Jim Poinsett, Secretary

Minutes of the January 2019 Meeting of the Amateur Astronomers Association of Princeton

  • After the lecture by Frank Reed on Celestial Navigation, Larry called the meeting to order.
  • Reports from the chairs of the departments:

    • Program chair reports that lecturers are set for February and March, still waiting on April and May. Volunteers are needed for the 10 minute member presentations.
    • Outreach reported an upcoming event on March 8th in Plainsboro. Also Communiversity is being held on April 28th.
    • Treasurer reports that membership is in the mid 70s, many of the new members are youngand getting younger.
    • Secretary had nothing to report.
    • Observatory reports all is well. There is a letter going to the WC park superintendant about reducing the treeline near the observatory. There is some interest in a public night during the lunar eclipse.
  • There being no additional new business the meeting was adjourned.
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Lunar Eclipse

23:47-00:00 EST Jan 20, 2019. Stack of 56 five-second exposures taken by club member Robert Vanderbei

For more pictures of the Lunar Eclipse by Robert Vanderbei follow the link below.

Lunar Eclipse by Robert Vanderbei

The following picture by Matthew Oechsner

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Fireball event during the lunar eclipse

by Luisa Villani-Gong

For those witnessing the January 20, 2019 lunar eclipse in the New Jersey area there was an added treat: a fireball event.

At approximately 10:48 p.m. local time, a fireball fell in the skies south west of our area. The eclipse was in it’s “first bite” phase, when a distinctive blue-green streak passed between the moon and the dog star, Sirius. It flared to a bright blue and appeared to “shatter” into many fragmented sparks before making Earth contact.

Several sightings of this event were recorded on the American Meteor Society website and can be viewed on their web page:

American Meteor Society – Fireball event

The second event occurred at 11:41 p.m. EST, just a few seconds after the eclipse reached totality and the Moon fully displayed its reddish “blood moon” hue. A space rock struck the Moon’s surface, west of Mare Humorum (Sea of Moisture). The event was visible through binoculars and was recorded by many amateur astronomers, as well as the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles,CA.

Meteor Strike during a Lunar Eclipse | All Space Considered at Griffith Observatory | January 2019

The size of the object striking the Moon has been estimated to be about the size of a football, and its resulting flash lasted only 1/30 of a second. If it had not occurred during the time of the lunar eclipse, it might well have gone unnoticed due to the occluding brightness of the Moon’s surface.

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The Carrington Event

by David W. Letcher

The Carrington Event AKA The Solar Storm of 1859

I became aware of the Carrington Event while watching National Geographic’s TV program entitled “Mission To The Sun” which I recorded on November 26, 2018 and watched a few days later. The program’s theme states: “A tiny spacecraft the size of a small car hurtles closer to the sun than any man-made object has ever been, at a speed faster than any man-made object has ever traveled, defying the almost unimaginable heat and deadly radiation of our closest star”.

This spacecraft, initially named the “Solar Probe Plus”, was renamed the “Parker Solar Probe” in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who, in 1958, published research predicting the existence of the solar wind. At the time he was a professor at the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi Institute. Two years later his theory of the solar wind was confirmed by satellite observations.

The main goals of the Solar Probe are to determine the structure and dynamics of the sun’s magnetic field, trace the flow of energy that heats the corona and accelerates the solar wind, and explore dusty plasma near the sun and its influence on solar wind and energetic particle formation. This mission will also help us learn more about the Sun-Earth relationship. (1)

After some introductory comments about the sun itself, the “Mission to the Sun” program briefly turned its attention to the observations and recordings of the British amateur astronomer Richard C. Carrington (26 May 1826 – 27 November 1875). This segment really captured my interest and spurred me on to write this article for AAAP. Much has been written about Richard Carrington in many books, journals and magazines, etc. so this article is not meant to bring about any new information about him but rather to bring awareness of his work to readers of this AAAP newsletter.

A few facts about Carrington are of historical and scientific interest. (2, 3)

Carrington entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1844 initially to study for church service, but, influenced by lectures by Professor Challis, a professor of astronomy and experimental philosophy, he switched to science with an emphasis in astronomy. Upon graduation he began his career as Observer at the University of Durham in 1849, but soon left due to his disappointment in their narrow scope of studies and poor supply of adequate instrumentation. He resigned his position in 1852, but during his two years there, he published studies of his observations of comets and minor planets. He was even admitted as a member in the Royal Astronomical Society in 1851, based upon recognition of his observing skills!

One more accomplishment by Carrington must be mentioned before I get to the main purpose of this essay. Carrington decided to build his house and observatory in Redhill, Surrey in 1852, and his astronomical studies resumed in 1853 resulting in the 1857 publication of “A Catalogue of 3,735 Circumpolar Stars observed at Redhill in the years 1854, 1855, and 1856, and reduced to Mean Positions for 1855”, a work for which he was awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society!

I’ll turn my attention now to Carrington’s seven and one-half years study of sunspots that resulted in his 1863 publication entitled “Observations of the Spots on the Sun from November 9, 1853, to March 24, 1861, made at Redhill”. A total of 5,290 observations of 954 groups of sunspots were made, many of which were drawn by hand and can be seen by downloading this publication. (6)

Well, on September 1, 1859 Carrington was fortunate enough to observe a very significant event on the sun. Here are some of his very words that he published in (7):

“While engaged in the forenoon of Thursday, Sept. 1, in taking my customary observation of the forms and positions of the solar spots, an appearance was witnessed which I believe to be exceedingly rare. The image of the sun’s disk was, as usual for me, projected on to a plate of glass coated with distemper of a pale straw color, and at a distance and under a power which presented a picture of about 11 inches diameter. I had secured diagrams of all the groups and detached spots and was engaged at the time in counting from a chronometer and recording the contacts of the spots with the cross-wires use in the observation, when within the area of the great north group (the size of which had previously excited general remark), two patches of intensely bright and white light broke out, in the positions indicated in the appended diagram (see below) by the letters A and B, and of the forms of the spaces left white. My first impression was that by some chance a ray of light had penetrated a hole in the screen attached to the object-glass, by which the general image is thrown into shade, for the brilliancy was fully equal to that of direct sun-light; but by at once interrupting the current observation, and causing the image to move by turning the R.A. handle, I saw I was an unprepared witness of a very different affair.”

Figure 1.

Carrington’s drawing of the sunspots

Carrington’s article is quite lengthy so I won’t include it here in its entirety here but will note an interesting number he calculated. After the flurry of surprise he sought out a witness, but by the time they returned to the telescope about 60 seconds later the bright spots of light had diminished considerably and after a few more moments the bright spots had disappeared.

The last traces of light were at spots C and D. Based upon this 5-minute movement Carrington calculated the distance the bright patches traveled to be about 35,000 miles at 420,000 mph! Furthermore, the appearance and structure of the sunspot group did not seem to change at all before, during and after the occurrence of the bright spots leading Carrington to surmise that the disturbance took place above the sun’s surface and above the sunspot group itself. (7)

Another witness, Carrington’s friend and amateur solar astronomer, Mr. Richard Hodson of Highgate observed the same bright patches of light that Carrington saw. Soon after both men presented the results of their observations to the November 11, 1859 meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society, which convinced those in attendance that something unprecedented had occurred on the sun. (8)

Carrington knew that additional witnesses would bolster his case, so he sought out his friend Warren de la Rue who was photographing the sun on clear days from the Kew Observatory. Regretfully, the sun was not photographed on the day of the bright spots and no one there had seen the spots either. But tracings from magnetic instruments at Kew showed disturbances at the same time that Carrington saw the bright spots on the sun indicating that the sun was able to influence the earth through magnetism 93 million miles away!

So what happened here on earth?

Evidently the Carrington Event occurred soon after a previous coronal mass ejection that occurred just a few days earlier. Fiery red and blood red auroras filled nighttime skies in both hemispheres to unusually low latitudes on August 28 and August 29 and again during the nights of September 1 and 2 of 1859. It is just the second episode that is named the Carrington Event. The first episode is named the Stewart Super Flare named after Balfour Stewart, a Scottish physicist and meteorologist. (3)

Enter Elias Loomis, an American mathematician who was a professor at Western Reserve College, the University of the City of New York, and finally at Yale University. After experiencing these auroras in late August and early September, Loomis wrote an appeal for eyewitness accounts of observations of the aurora, magnetic storms and effects of such storms on telegraph lines. He synthesized these many accounts into a picture of what happened as a result of the two storms. (4) and (8, Chapter 6)

Loomis published his many findings and conclusions in nine publications in the American Journal of Science between 1859 and 1862. I will only summarize herein what very many eyewitnesses from virtually all around the world provided to Professor Loomis.

Findings for telegraph Lines:

  • Telegraph lines stopped working. Giant sparks crackled from telegraphy equipment. Communication between many telegraph offices along telegraph lines stopped for the night.
  • “Streams of fire” leaped from telegraph lines.
  • Operator stunned by a large arc of electricity.

Findings for auroras:

  • Auroras outshining sunsets.
  • Skies flooded with white light.
  • Auroras in Key West, Florida and in Henry County, IN
  • Auroras so bright the stars were dimmed.
  • Blood red and fiery red auroras.

Findings for magnetic observations:

  • Magnetometers, especially at Kew Observatory, showed vacillating movements.

Loomis’ conclusions:

  • The base of the auroras are found at about 50 miles above the surface.
  • They can be as high as 500 miles.
  • Southern auroras always accompany northern auroras.
  • Both occur in belts encircling their respective polar regions.
  • The further away you are from these belts, the less likely you are to see one.
  • Northern hemisphere auroras span areas that include Hudson Bay, much of Canada, Alaska, and the Bering Strait then through the Russian Empire (sic) and then to the Atlantic, Iceland and Greenland.
  • As for Southern Auroras, the sources I consulted did not indicate which specific southern hemisphere regions experience auroras.
  • Auroras are linked to telegraphic disruption.
  • Auroras are produced by the flow of electricity through the atmosphere.

Final Comments about the Carrington Event.

When Carrington observed and recorded the bright spots on his screen, he realized the sun emitted the white light but, as X-rays had yet to be discovered by physicist Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen in 1895, he didn’t know that these rays were also being received. It was these X-rays that electrified the particles in the upper atmosphere and caused the erratic behavior in the magnetic needles at the Kew observatory. Since both white light and X-rays travel at the speed of light, Carrington’s spots of light and the magnetic needle behavior at Kew coincided in time with each other. But, a coronal mass ejection soon followed which, traveling 1,500 miles per second, reached Earth about 17.5 hours later which resulted in the brilliant red auroras, magnetic storms and damage to telegraph systems.

It has been suggested (5, 8) that if another Carrington Event were to occur today, we Earthlings would experience disruptions to radio and telephone communications including cell phone communications, melting of transformers, blackouts in cities and putting many people at risk. Satellites in orbit would experience damage to their circuitry, decreased solar panel power and endangerment to our GPS system.

Not a pretty picture!

Sources:

  1. UNIVERSE TODAY. Space and Astronomy News.
  2. Richard C. Carrington. Wikipedia.
  3. Solar Storm of 1859. Wikipedia.
  4. Elias Loomis. Wikipedia.
  5. Origin of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere (2014) 44:185–195 DOI 10.1007/s11084-014-9368-3
  6. Carrington, Richard Christopher, Observations of the spots of the Sun from 1853 to 1861 (1863) Williams and Norgate
  7. Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 20, Issue 1, 11 November 1859, Pages 13–15. This article can also be found at: https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/20.1.13
  8. Clark, Stewart. (2007) The Sun Kings. Princeton. Princeton University Press.
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The hair rides the string

by Theodore R. Frimet

Observation and perception

There are regular and predictable motions of a galaxy’s spiral arm. On our carousel ride through our neck of cosmos, we typically move altogether. What perplexes me, the most, however, is the bumpy ride of the bar. Ask around. Maybe take a course, or two. Many have questions, and few of us, have answers.

I took an online Astronomy course, care of University of Arizona, a year or so back. One of the challenges was to subscribe, detect, and validate bar galaxies. I did so, by the dozens. It was fun, and fulfilling. Yet, all good things must come to an end. The experience did yield a future potential. It has given me visual insight as to what a bar galaxy should appear to be.

I have obsessed, or perhaps simply become more aware, of gravity waves. And their impact on clouds. Yes, back to Earth, for a little while. It is so wonderful to make first hand observations, just outside the door. I observe the cloud stratus with the apparent chaotic voids, separating the bands of white puffy moisture. The occasional updraft, at clouds end, shows the intent of a horizontal storm, a-brewing. Tilt it upright, and feel her natures fever. Yet beware! Toronadic forces abound in this child’s game of “name the cloud”.

Pull the horses hair bow across the violin string. Screech out a tone, or make music. It is all in the ear of the beholder. Is it not? Stars stretched out across our Milky Way arm, ride an intermittent gravity wave. Our brightly lit nebular masses bob up and down, up and down, for each encounter with a bar. They are the hair riding the string.

The bar, it is told to us, is a region of space that is tightly packed with stars. Yet, here I am, proffering that the star packed region has an immense gravity pool. Throughout these measurable perturbations lay a luxury of a commonplace comparison.

Draw the horses hair bow across the violin string. And vibrate the string. A very human endeavor. Now listen as our Cosmos draw the compacted stars across a region of space-time, where no sound may ever emanate. Exceptions abound, as in the LIGO experimenters transforming the blip of a detected gravity wave into our aural spectrum.

There is a difficult read for any beginner, looking for dynamic answers, here in the journal, Nature; “A dynamically young and perturbed Milky Way disk ” (1). I was hopeful that I would commiserate soon that a dwarf galaxy, or closed cluster, made its way to our doorstep. Perhaps it deformed our spiral arm. I was soon defeated, partly so, as the article makes no solid claims for either. They have used interpretations of the data, from the European Space Agency (ESA), Gaia, to infer our disk perturbations by the Sagittarius dwarf galaxy. This occurrence was between 300 and 900 million years ago. With another perturbation occurring about 2 Gyr, (giga-or billion years), ago.

More significantly, I learned that stars with similar velocities will stretch out in phase space, projecting as spirals. However, the article attests phase mixing in two dimensions. I steal at their thunder, when I suggest herein that the second dimension is the latent gravity pool, discarded by the solid mass of the Sagittarius dwarf. Yes, we are thick as thieves, now, as I continue to portend that gravity is as ever present as a dark cloud over your head.

What is the sound of the galactic wave? Is there no one here, to hear it? Does it make a sound? Of course it does! Ask any amateur. You just think you, “see it”.

Relax at the wide field of sight, and begin your journey with me. Now, go ahead. Feel it. You are in it. Yes, you and I are on the bob sled journey thru the fabric of space-time. Yield to her call and rediscover the gravity of the situation. Close one eye, my amateur, so that you do not loose your sight to the night.

References:
(1) Antoja, T., Helmi, A., Romero-Gómez, M., Katz, D., Babusiaux, C., Drimmel, R., Evans, D., Figueras, F., Poggio, E., Reylé, C., Robin, A., Seabroke, G. and Soubiran, C. (2018). A dynamically young and perturbed Milky Way disk. Nature, 561(7723), pp.360-362.

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string of pearls…

by Theodore R. Frimet

…and puddle ducks

A while ago, I acquired a Swift phase contrast microscope. It became a replacement for my failed attempt to revive a binocular, standard light version. It did not, however, replace my single ocular Reichart-Jung, which continues to give me the occasional Waa-hooh ! It takes the brain, a few days, to synchronize the binocular views, though.

Invariably, without some acquired experience, a first time user for a binocular version, might very well become quickly disenchanted with the view. Almost. I almost quit the scope. I lingered on, adjusting the inter-pupillary distance, while making some small, unnecessary eye-to-lens distance shifts. All was well, within a few days, perhaps a week, or two. I do not remember.

Janet has, of course, been very supportive. There never would be a quarrel of selling off one microscope, and then acquiring another. Let’s keep it between you, and me, though, that a phase contrast view has been my dream, in the makings, for many years. And it finally became prioritized, care of eBay. And of course, my former bino ‘scope became someones enchanted value of the day.

About two weeks ago, I recalled that I had acquired a pencil set. It was purchased to expand my ever recurring art desires in pastel, oil, acrylic, watercolor, and charcoal. It lay forgotten, in a bag, not retrieved since our trip to the South of France, in the Principality of Monaco, and of course, Paris. The pencils made their appearance only twice, on that single solitary trip of ours. One was to capture the inner court of our state room, and the second to capture a beach side scene. Both at Monaco. The beach scene probably survives, somewhere in the cavern of my closet. While the former was given as a gift to the hotel concierge. It was at that point, where the hotel thus increased its four star rating, to a five star. Or so I felt, at the time. Happy thoughts, and good times.

Where is the tie-in for Astronomy, you query? Well, look over our first paragraph. And relish in the thoughts that astronomers are known for their take on binoculars for the beginner, as well as for the intermediate user. And those of us that are advanced, are quick to espouse the binocular hands held version for a quick peek into the night sky, where a more elaborate set-up would simply take too darn long.

And now the epiphany. My binoculars do not take hours, days, or weeks to adjust to. There must be something incorrect with the Swift! By now, of course, having my biological vision auto-adjusted, has probably done something to my human depth of field view. I wouldn’t know, of course, as I stream through most of my daily life, leaving the interweaving of reality to my hind brain, and turn off the fore-brain. Yes, I steer from behind, with rear wheel drive! Perhaps I should invest in an all wheel version just as Janet has in her Nissan Rogue. I dunno.

And then there is mention, in the third paragraph, of a sell off. Yes, come clean, all of you! How many telescopes have you acquired, and told your significant other, friends or family, that the old scope will be sold off? Some do, some don’t? Doubtful. You are all complicit in the conspiracy of telescope inventory. Yes, you say there is merit in that old scope, even in the sixth or seventh one that you hold near and dear. You find utility in each and every one of them. Well, perhaps not that third telescope. It can go.

Will you accept a diminished amount for that dear scope that you once cherished? Believe you, me, that when we depart into the great abyss that is the Heart and Soul of Orion, your second hand telescopes will find their way to Earth bound friends, and charity alike. Do part with what you have now, and do so quickly and on the cheap.

Puddle Ducks and Benjamin Bunny, alike, were initially imagined by Beatrix Potter to appear on her pages as black and white images. Ms Potter preferred this thought, upon greeting her first publisher. She desired to make her first new book financially available to as many people as possible. Her publisher, knew better as a printer, that by limiting the illustrations that many could appear on one sheet. Together, they would drive the immense publishing costs down. Beatrix, not knowing that this was possible, was very pleased to find out that she could publish in color, and make her first book very affordable! Imagine, dear amateur, if you unleashed your inventory, onto thirsting eyes, and did so at the scale of economy of Beatrix. Telescopes for all ! Eyes, new and old, will begin to see anew, and at very, very affordable prices.

Ah, the pencil set. I recalled I had it, somewhere, found it and liberated it, once again. All that was needed was a quick stop at the craft store to purchase a small format sketch book. I am an artist, although not a very good one. I find it very effort intensive to look into the microscope, and draw what my eye sees. By making the sketch, I know that I am reinforcing a learned view into the environment of the very small. It can be very rewarding. So I wait for the reward. The epiphany. And it comes. Some days the effect is stronger than others. Today it was a triple wave of goose-bumps. You know, the same you get when you peer into the night sky for that evasive cluster of star light wonder!

As I am drawing the view of a motor neuron, at 400x, phase contrast, I make observations post haste. The visual is now one of what is on the paper, and not relied upon from the birds eye view at the scope. That magical eye hand connection that has been forged into the recess of my neurological essence, breathe life anew. I look at the extrusions of cellular material making up the axons, as they reach out on the sketch paper below – surrounded by glial cells. And I wonder where all the astral-cells have gone to?
I ponder the relationship that all cells have in common. And of course, come to the conclusion that all cells are the same. Yes, structure is different, here and there. Yes, our genetic differentiation has turned off some pathways, and turned others on. And yet, here we are. All biological beings composed of basic cellular units. One cell, is not superior to any other. My goose bumps now comes in waves.

When I compare the singularity of cellular make up, at they eyepiece, I find all images not being the greater, nor the lesser. When I extrapolate what I see, and fail me not – our tissues, organs, and systems are neither more or less the complex. If we, by extension, think of other completely self contained biological beings as being more or less complex, we fail in our theory to suggest that one is grander than the other. My neurological complex is more capable of my cats. So, we must be superior? Well, my cats’ biology contains within features that are far superior in many ways. So why do we make comparison by way of neurology, when all life, it would seem, is in need of equal recognition? Yes, we are separate, and we are all same. Our cells are very telling.

Our brains, and sensory based systems, coupled with cognition permit our experiencing a wide sense of who you are. Cells. Evolution has driven them to exact from our environment all that we can perceive to be real. Could there be a universal evolution that transcends our minor standing in the Cosmos?

For others it would take a leap of faith to comprehend that the universe evolves. For amateur astronomers, it is pretty much a more simpler fare. What then is the cellular system that makes up the universe? At first, I thought, stars. Then it occurs that the material that accretes and in basic theory requires a blasting gravitational shock wave to coalesce into a vast self-igniting massive sight of brilliance. I relish for a brief moment in permitting my mind to recreate stellar nurseries. And then my mind drifts to Earth. Planets. Could they be the cell that we build up our universe with? There are so many. I thought, no, wrong banana peel. Yet, the thought of planets took hold. If cells communicate with each other (they do by the way – interstitially and all the time) then our cell of an earth must have tell tale signs of an intra-universal conversation.

Does it ring out if struck? Where are our vibrations, from the core of our very planets existence. Does our geology ring out with a regular tune of life, singing out to the void that, “we are here”? Perhaps not. Don’t worry. Be happy. It is in your very cellular make up to contribute a conversation to the universe.

We are remote, and separate and all so distant from every other galaxy, known or not. Not to worry. Even the saplings root system reaches out laterally and most aggressively in the absence of water. When nature does not provide us with the nourishment of life’s sustenance, our cells are programmed to begin its inevitable search. The cooperative birthings that we are of our planets geology coupled with the living representation of spent stars of old, both fuels the saga and sanguine search thru our Cosmos. And where the light fails, we are programmed to reach out and become anew.

You are, remember, made up of the stuff that stars are made up of? And even though that you do not burn the wick at both ends, your biology has made a compromise with organelles, such as mitochondria, to power you up with immense fortitude and the certainty of a battery at large. What combination of microcellular life or elemental material is then necessary to communicate across the void? What is within the earth and its inhabitants that enable us both to speak across the vastness of spacetime?

I think it is you, dear amateur. You embody the richness of energy and capability to transit spacetime. You all are enablers of consciousness and communicate with and thru the depths of space. Hearken all my Benjamin Bunnies, and Puddle Ducks! Whenever, and where-ever you peer into the night sky, you make connections that others are simply unaware of. It is profound, that you all make the connections of inter-galactic intelligence possible at the eye piece. It is a scary thought, though, that I am part of that consciousness. You are always transcendent. Even when the skies are cloudy. When you steep your soul at the scope, you appear with all your being, your Gaia, Sol, our great Spiral, and Local Group. Perhaps we are not cells. Perhaps we have evolved to be something more. Yes. We are a string of pearls.

Posted in February 2019, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment

Magnetar Extinction

by Theodore R. Frimet

Why earth lets us live

You know, sometimes it really is the simple things in life that I enjoy the most. Microscopy is among one of them. Imagine my glee upon rediscovering the less obvious connection between neuronal axons and loose connective tissues filaments. Not there yet? No prob, Bob.

Both loose connective tissues and neural cells have their own associated glutamate receptors. In the case of neural tissue, the presence of excess glutamate (processed from MSG) can be deleterious to the cell. MSG is a known excitotoxin. It will excite the neurons to death. Ca+ ions will stream into the cell. The neuron will pump water across the membrane in attempt to mitigate the influx of Ca+. There will be a downstream, to the death, excitation of other neurons. Entire populations of neural nets can be lost in this fashion.

Ok – such a stretch, I know – yet the affects are so well known that scientists use MSG to burn out optic nerves for biological testing protocols. Too much? Where is the link to loose connective tissue? And where is the tie in to Astronomy, Astrophysics, or even, dare I say, Cosmology? Patience, my dear Astronomer, as I attempt to weave a short story for you, combining the Good Earth, Evolution and our Cosmos.

Ah, yes. How then ‘the link’ to loose connective tissue? As I had the little beastie prepared for me, under a phase contrast microscope at 400X, a hypotheses blinked into existence. Could it be possible that loose connective tissue, as being sensitized at glutamate receptors, also carry a pseudo axonal message, alongside her fibre? And further exchange this lost message, interstitially, and chaotically? All the while being interpreted as pain? Hmmm.

A Google search later, and a paper of a few years old found me relishing in the work of where drugs were sought after, and used. The sample study effectively blocked glutamate receptors, and subsequent pain from being transmitted thru the loose connective tissue network. Ok, so no longer a hypothesis. It was an older groundbreaking theory, of science long proven. A decade ago.

Which further got my old noggin thinking that drugs weren’t key. What was needed was an active way to induce endocytotic activity to engulf, absorb, and destroy the very receptors for these agonists. And when the local chronic pain had subsided, to cease said therapy. I pressed the hypothesis further to allow loose connective tissue to rebound and re-establish its network of glutamate receptors.

I bare my hypothetical hope at the ground before you. The natural reintroduction of these necessary receptors would no longer induce the agony of pain, in the form of Fibromyalgia. A short email to the papers author, and his subsequent reply, suggested that I as an amateur I should continue to pursue this study. It was a pretty good idea.

I realized that I needed to up my ante, and read a good book. However, texts are very expensive. I do not have the finances to further any microbiological study for a few hundred dollars. Ah, yes! Astronomy will have its way with my fancy – yet my other passions will continue to “take a number, please”. I shall be forever patient for social security to kick in, as an income supplement. However, there will still persist prima facie financial priori.

Of course there is the premise of used books. There is amongst us a treasure trove of decently discounted tomes. A few minutes searching comes up with a 4th edition version of the 8th edition available for Molecular Cellular Biology. Lodish, circa 2000, it seems, comes highly recommended. Having wrent the first chapter as an easy read – it blazes before me the old human thought – that we are so very complex.

I hold an integrated view of the last 65 million years or so. We have graduated by ways of evolution from my favorite cousin, the Lesser Tree Shew, to human beings (sans the narrative of genetic suppression and an expanded brain case and associated psychopathy). Shall we mention the great dying of the Permian about 250 million years ago (no shrews, I guess)? Let us toss back to about 4.7 billion years of alternating wet and dry periods, producing ribonucleic acid (RNA)? Yes, this is post the time when we had a catastrophic encounter with a massive wanderer that not only birthed our moon, it yielded a rather equal distribution of iron throughout old Gaia. Yes, “rust never sleeps” – Neil Young.

What the heck!? My toy train left the station on the wrong track. Just for a moment. Ah, yes. Evolution. We should not be here, and yet here we are.

I am a fool for the old girl and her coddling. We hold a common genetic heritage that remains a constant reminder of not what we kept intact. Evolution has suppressed or thrown out much of the grist mill of my genome and made us unique. Nature has conspiratorial forces at work. You just didn’t know you were the 2nd stringer. No more bench warming for the human race. Coach says, “it is almost time to get skin in the game”.

There you have it. Life evolves on the basis of a driving force that we have all learned to respect. And yet, we are still here. Perhaps not for very much longer. And I got to thinking, that maybe, after all, we will be here for quite a spell? So sit down, and pull up a chair, if you will. Ok, stand if you must. This one is going to be a real knee slapper!!

Earth will permit us the grace of continued existence and to evolve a bit further. It will be her effort to drive off the inevitable destruction of all life. Gaia is a good mother, and would never permit it, again. She might give us all a good spanking, as she did during the Permian, though.

Evolution has learned a few new tricks, and the human experience is one of them. Gaia is banking on the cosmological currency that a magnetar will star quake. At the speed of light, we will be hit with disastrous amounts of highly energetic particles. It will leave us us naked, and dead.

Fortunately, cosmological distances are huge. The extreme vastness of space blankets us with an extensive time delay. However, believe you me, if the source of a magnetar on steroids happens, there will be some serious accounting in the works. So Gaia has established that you will evolve, and give her earthlings the help that they will need to survive. No sentient mother wants another great Permian die off. Vulcanism aside, neither are the great asteroid impacts on anyones shopping list.

What? Move the planet? Relocate species? I dunno. A lady doesn’t tell all, does she? However, for as certain as I am that salmon swim upstream, spawn and die, so shall we all meet our greatest definition of “why are we here”.

Answer? In the event of a cosmological catastrophic event, please remain calm, as you will reach your own genetic potential, and save the Earth. However, after consulting the 1995 film, Braveheart, “The Almighty tells me he can get me out of this mess, but he’s pretty sure you’re ****ed.”

Posted in February 2019, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment

New Horizons

by Prasad Ganti

On the new year’s day, 2019, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft passed the most distant object in our solar system, which any human made spacecraft came close to. This object is about four billion miles away from Earth, and a billion miles away from Pluto, the demoted planet and furthest one from Earth and thus the Sun. New Horizons is now so far that the radio signal takes about six hours to reach the Earth. At just twenty miles in size, shaped like a snowman with two spheres, it was a challenge to identify the new destination once New Horizons reached Pluto, and even greater challenge to navigate towards such a nondescript object at such a vast distance.

Pluto and Ultima Thule belong to the part of the solar system called Kuiper Belt (picture shown below), consisting of bits and pieces of rock and ice. They are supposed to be remnants of the formation of our solar system, much like the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. New Horizons joins the club of spacecraft like Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager 1 and 2, which are at the edge of the solar system. Picture below shows the Kuiper belt and the different spacecraft and where they are relative to each other.

New Horizons is the fifth spacecraft to traverse the Kuiper Belt, but the first to conduct a scientific study of this mysterious region beyond Neptune. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI/Magda Saina

The pictures we got of Ultima Thule are very rudimentary, with fewer pixels in them. That is because of the slow speeds of data transmission at thousand bits per second, all of it relayed by a radio transmitter sending out fifteen watts of energy. Such feeble energy is caught by NASA’s deep space network. The transmission can be done when Sun is not in the path to Earth. It will take roughly twenty months to send home all of the newly collected seven gigabits of data about Ultima Thule. The geology and composition, as well as the potential for rings or moons, will be beamed home first.

The data transmission speeds and the radio transmitter appear to be primitive. Considering that the New Horizons was launched in 2006 after years of design, it is a wonder that the technology works so well at such huge distances. The saga of conceiving, designing, launching and operating of New Horizons is well chronicled in the book “Chasing New Horizons” by Alan Stern who is the PI (Principal Investigator) for the project. The PI is the person who conceives the idea and sells it to NASA and carries it to fruition.

When Voyager 1 and 2 were launched in 1977, they went on a grand tour of all the outer planets. While Voyager 1 went towards Jupiter and Saturn, it was pulled off path to investigate Titan. It then veered off from the plane of the planets, with no chance of ever going to Pluto. Voyager 2 went to Uranus and Neptune, it was not destined to travel towards Pluto, as Pluto was at a different place in its orbit around the Sun at that time. Thus Pluto became the only planet not to have been visited by any spacecraft.

NASA has many competing proposals, all vying for the reducing budgets. Pluto mission, titled New Horizons, barely won the competition at the beginning of the century. Work started at a feverish pace. New Horizons was to be the fastest launched spacecraft, given the vast distance it had to traverse. Atlas V was the launch vehicle, with a custom built third stage solid rocket added atop to boost the fastest launched spacecraft towards Jupiter. Going so far away from the Sun meant that it had to use nuclear power (solar power is too feeble at such distances from the Sun). RTG (Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator) uses plutonium packaged in small pellets made of plutonium dioxide. Clad in iridium and bottled up inside a black graphite casing. The radioactive decay produces heat which is used in a thermocouple producing 250 watts. 250 watts is equivalent of about four ordinary electric bulbs, During the long journey, all the systems in the spacecraft were put into hibernation. This also meant that the staffing at mission control was down to bare minimum. The systems on the spacecraft were very skeletal. There was no scan platform to turn the instruments during a flyby. It was simply too heavy. Cameras (capture light to take pictures) and spectrometers (which analyze the various frequencies present in a given sample of light) are the typical instruments used for such exploration.

On such a long journey, re-orienting the spacecraft is required. The initial aim may not be very accurate. ALMA (Atacama Large Millimeter Array), the ground based radio telescope in Chile, was used to correct the path of the New Horizons, as it sped towards Pluto after getting a gravity assist from Jupiter. With the proper maneuvering as it neared Jupiter, it got flung by Jupiter’s massive gravity towards Pluto. Like getting a free push.

As it neared Pluto in 2015, the mission control came back fully staffed to prepare for the flyby procedures. Days before the flyby, mission control lost communication with the spacecraft. During those nervous moments, the staff correctly guessed that the on-board computer became overloaded while compressing images. They restarted the computer and were able to recover most of the image files. And then loaded the computer with the sequenced commands for the flyby mission. Everything went well thereafter.

The space telescope Hubble was used to identify the distant object Ultima Thule, and when this small object moved in front of a star, its size was estimated as twenty miles (due to the dip in light from the star). The flyby of Ultima Thule was an accomplishment made beyond the initial goals of reaching Pluto. New Horizons is still alive and going. What is the next destination ? The excursion across the solar system covering tinier masses at the extreme edge is something amazing. These achievements are nothing short of a miracle.

Posted in February 2019, Sidereal Times | Tagged | Leave a comment

Snippets

compiled by Arlene & David Kaplan

NASA

-NASA

Saturn’s spectacular rings are ‘very young’
The end phases of the Cassini mission should yield new information about Saturn’s interior.
We’re looking at Saturn at a very special time in the history of the Solar System, according to scientists. They’ve confirmed the planet’s iconic rings are very young – no more than 100 million years old…more

China Moon probe-CLEP

China Moon probe-CLEP

Chang’e-4: China Moon probes take snaps of each other
A Chinese rover and lander have taken images of each other on the Moon’s surface. Also released are new panoramic images of the landing site, along with video of the vehicles touching down. The Chang’e-4 mission is the first to explore the Moon’s far side from the surface…more

-Griffith Observatory

-Griffith Observatory

During the Lunar Eclipse, Something Slammed Into the Moon
A white dot in the bottom left corner of the moon captured by livestreams during this week’s lunar eclipse was a flash from a collision with the lunar surface likely caused by a tiny, fast-moving meteoroid left behind by a comet. Anthony Cook, an astronomical observer at Los Angeles’ Griffith Observatory which streamed the eclipse…more

NYT

-NYT

What Happened to Earth’s Ancient Craters?
Where have Earth’s craters gone? Certainly we have the striking Meteor Crater near Winslow, Arizona, and Chicxulub, which lies beneath Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the 100-mile-wide scar of the meteor that likely killed off the dinosaurs. The pace of space rocks pummeling Earth and the moon was relatively infrequent, but then doubled or tripled for unknown reasons, a new study finds…more

-JAMIE COOPER PHOTOGRAPHY

-Jamie Cooper

‘Super blood wolf moon’ meteoroid strike photographed
A photographer has said capturing the rarely seen sight of a meteoroid crashing into the Moon was “just beautiful”. The odds of it happening in an area of darkness were “astronomical”…more

-NASA

-NASA

Nasa’s New Horizons
Best image yet of ‘space snowman’ Ultima Thule The New Horizons probe has sent back its best picture yet of the small, icy object Ultima Thule, which it flew past on New Year’s Day…more

Before we explored outer space, we tried to paint it
In 1939, artist Charles Bittinger imagined worlds we hadn’t traveled to yet—sometimes with impressive accuracy…more

Posted in February 2019, Sidereal Times | Tagged , | Leave a comment